By Matt Rankin, Allie Stoehr and Lee Zimmerman
The final day of Rhythm N’ Blooms arrived as quickly as the festival itself had begun. It was accompanied by a sense of satisfaction of having endured the harsh weather while muting the sadness over the fact that the weekend festivities were now reaching their end. Indeed, Friday and Saturday had at times seemed a matter of sheer survival, given the cold and unceasing rain – the latter of which was absolutely torrential at times – and the frigid temperatures that accompanied it throughout.
Happily, Sunday offered a much needed respite, and while some attendees and performers still complained about the cold, the weather seemed tropical compared to the previous two days. OK, that’s an exaggeration – an assertion that could be argued by those performers who still found it necessary to bundle up on stage – but the day was dry and that in itself lent a sense of relief and resurgence overall. The crowds were less dense but equally enthusiastic, and the lack of an overly huddled humanity certainly didn’t hurt as well.
As always, it was the music that really mattered, though. And in that sense, the third day attained the highest highs of all. – Lee Zimmerman
The War and Treaty
After a long weekend of inclement weather, Rhythm N’ Blooms attendees readied themselves for another bout of cold temperatures before heading toward the Cripple Creek stage on Sunday afternoon. The War and Treaty seemed like a by-the-numbers soul outfit based on descriptions I had read; in reality, though, the band was a fully-realized, powerhouse contingent, totally capable of changing minds and hearts through song.
Seemingly incongruous (at least on paper), the music was an intriguing mix of old-school funk/blues/soul and gritty indie rock. Yet somehow the amalgamation worked – and worked well. Crunchy rhythm guitar and phaser squalls intertwined with playful bass licks and yearning vocals, and the result was nothing short of goosebump-inducing.
Even a couple of Pilot Light employees, some of the most discerning music appreciators in Knoxville, raved about the group’s Saturday afternoon set at the smallish DIY venue. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to catch Sunday’s performance on the big stage but were on hand for the third and final appearance the group made on the weekend: a conquering performance at Barley’s.
More like an old-timey tent revival than a concert, The War and Treaty’s late-night set invoked passion, dancing and fervent belief in the power of music. Shedding layers of clothing like he did in the afternoon, lead vocalist Michael Trotter, Jr., led the masses in prayerful rejoice; his wife, Tanya Blount, directed the densely packed congregation. Together, they called for unification. It wasn’t so much a political call to arms as it was a directive for positive change, but the resulting feeling was positive and warm. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend. – Matt Rankin
For anyone who missed the late-ish Friday set at Barley’s, a second Rhythm N’ Blooms performance by this new collective was on offer at the Jackson Terminal on Sunday afternoon. This set was nearly identical to the first (with the trio even wearing the same Wes Anderson-inspired garb), but this showing seemed even better. Perhaps it was the fact that the band on this day didn’t have to follow the neurotic grandeur that Sweet Years has perfected, but the newest side project from members of The Black Lillies positively shined in this environment.
The prolific Sam Quinn swapped vocal turns with Dustin Schaefer, the former’s bass lines matched by the latter’s expert guitar work. Bowman Townsend was a steadfast percussive representative, never straying too far from his bandmates’ whims yet injecting creativity where he saw fit.
At one point, Frank Bronson, local violin extraordinaire, wandered out on stage to make a surprise cameo. Having completed the task of supplying an epic solo, he, in quintessentially “Frank” fashion, used his bow to scratch his back. The move was hilarious to behold, but it was just a precursor for the weird direction the set would take near its end.
The penultimate song was Anglicized reggae through-and-through, and the final track was a faithful cover of 311’s “Amber.” Hard to say if the accomplished musicians in the group were messing with the gathered crowd by playing a pop standard, but the irreverent choice had quite a few dancing regardless. – MR
Okey Dokey filled the Pilot Light with an array of ages and shapes of humans as their set began on Sunday afternoon, with lead singer and visual artist Aaron Martin exclaiming, “Holy hell, here we go!” The groovy sway Martin kept the whole show seemed to be a side effect of the large bottle of white wine he chugged between songs, but showgoers loved it. The three vocalists on stage created a full sound, and the keyboardist playing the bass lines reminded us of The Doors. Okey Dokey performs with a vibe similar to Børns and definitely brought a unique sound and visual performance to the cramped stage. – Allie Stoehr
Sarah Potenza’s voice echoed over the train tracks behind the Love Shack Sunday evening. As a train passed by mid-song, Potenza simply responded with a polite, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude and kept going. Potenza’s strong, driving vocals paired well with an electric guitar accompaniment, as well as with her own acoustic. Both old and new tunes were showcased, along with a beautiful rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” Potenza rocks a belt similar to one of her idols, Christina Aguilera, but with a more alt-country, blues vibe akin to Susan Tedeschi. One of the crowd favorites was an original called “Climbing Mountains,” a tune about conquering anxiety. Potenza is currently on tour, and we hope to see her back in Knoxville soon. – AS
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers
Among the new generation of artists gleefully eschewing the mainstream country landscape in favor of a truer, more authentic aesthetic is outlaw purveyor Sarah Shook, who on Sunday afternoon with her band briefly yet convincingly transformed the indie haven that is the Pilot Light into what conceivably could pass as a legitimate honky-tonk. It took a few songs for the singer-songwriter to fully settle in, but she seemed to grow in confidence as the set progressed, and the performance got better with each successive song. By the end, nearly everyone in the healthy crowd was swaying with the music. Shook may have been the best possible artist on this particular bill to play the venerable, gritty Old City venue; if only she could have been one of the myriad acts who played multiple sets over the weekend … – MR
Given that Paul Thorn bills his new roadshow as “Paul Thorn’s MissionTemple Fireworks Revival featuring the McCrary Sisters,” it might have been more suitably situated earlier on Sunday, mainly because it’s almost entirely dedicated to the glories of gospel and accompanied by an exuberant religious fervor. Still, it made for a stirring conclusion to the day as well, at least as far as the festivities on the Cripple Creek stage were concerned.
Dressed sharply in a shiny, three-piece, charcoal-gray suit, Thorn assumed his initial role as an enthusiastic emcee, sharing the fact that his love for gospel was inspired by having grown up singing in church. He was, he said, sharing the stage with people he most admired.
“Tonight, my wish comes true,” he announced as he introduced the four singing siblings known as the McCrary Sisters. Indeed, they practically stole the show, wailing in harmony and each on their own in the true spirit of sanctity and celebration. Thorn himself watched from the wings, dancing with the same enthusiasm the audience enjoyed, obviously appreciative that the sisters consented to share in his show. The audience was overjoyed as well, and there didn’t seem to be a single person in the crowd who wasn’t moving, grooving, dancing and rejoicing, with broad smiles signalling their satisfaction. Indeed, when the ensemble closed their set with a cover of the infectious hit “Love Train,” there wasn’t a single person who didn’t seem eager to climb on board.
By the way, Paul Thorn really knows how to embrace an audience – quite literally in fact. As he’s always prone to do at the end of his sets, he left the stage, mingled with the crowd and kept on singing while hugging those around him, posing for selfies and offering high fives and hugs. He then made his way over to the merch stand where the meet-and-greet continued. A truer man of the people simply won’t be found. – LZ